TCS Daily

Go with the Flow

By James K. Glassman - September 16, 2002 12:00 AM

Against all odds, the Earth Summit at Johannesburg focused, not on the parochial interest of the radical greens like climate change, but on broader matters of economic development, like pulling down trade barriers so poorer nations can prosper by exporting to richer nations. And prosperity is essential for environmental progress.

But the main battleground at the summit was energy - the lifeblood of any economy. The greens and their European allies were thwarted in attempts to require a worldwide goal for renewable sources like windmills and solar energy. It was an important victory for pro-growth forces, but it would be a disaster if the matter simply ended there. In the follow-up to Johannesburg, policymakers should be considering ways to get abundant, cheap energy to - and from - developing nations.

At least one policymaker has.

Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) delivered a powerful and important speech at the National Press Club Thursday, urging the U.S. to get serious about diversifying "our energy sources to increase national security," instead of relying so heavily on Iraq and Saudi Arabia. He called for new production, both at home and overseas.

He said we should "dismantle the myth that America is forever dependent on Middle East oil, especially when the proceeds from its sale are recycled to terrorists out to destroy our way of life. "We should see and understand that every time America buys a barrel of rogue oil we are in part funding unseen radicals."

Burns quoted Winston Churchill on the eve of World War II: "On no one quality, on no one process, on no one country, on no one route and on no one field must we be dependent. Safety and certainty in oil lie in variety and variety alone."

As for variety: "In the Caspian Sea, a body of water surrounded by former Soviet republics, oil reserves of up to 33 billion barrels have been found, a supply greater than our own reserves and double that of the North Sea. And estimates say another 233 billion barrels of reserves are lurking undiscovered somewhere in that sea" - or one-fifth to one-fourth of the world's proven reserves. "Yet America buys virtually no oil from Russia and the Caspian states." What's needed is the rule of law to encourage a flow of capital that will produce a flow of oil.

"We will act to seek variety," he said, "by extending our partnerships with Russia and the Caspian states. We will act to seek variety by expanding partnerships with allies such as Mexico and nations throughout South America. We will act to seek variety by seeking out opportunities in West Africa and Middle Eastern nations committed to democracy."

And, of course, said Burns, the U.S. needs to develop its resources at home. He cited his own state, Montana, "who possesses the nation's largest supply of clean coal," and he criticized the current "moratorium on new offshore oil an gas development along the entire east coast of the United States."

But most of his criticism was reserved for Iraq and the "Kingdom of Saudi Arabia," which, he said, is a "culture in decline" that "continues to abuse its vast reserves to intimidate countries from hiking production." The U.S., he said, needs "to counter by shielding our economy from the whims of one single country."

Just as important, in the spirit of Johannesburg, U.S. policy - indeed, world policy - must be directed toward vastly increasing the supply of less expensive fuels, like clean coal and oil. These are the energy sources that will speed the economic development of Africa, Asia and Latin America. And, in turn, the energy sources in those areas can add to world supply. The result will be not just stronger economies but, again in the spirit of Johannesburg, cleaner air and water throughout the world.

Burns has spoken forcefully. It's time to hear similar sentiments - and action - from the Bush Administration and, in fact, from every global leader. The times demand a flow of energy that is abundant and secure.



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